Project Management

Strategic Planning: The Knapsack Problem

Bart has been in ecommerce for over 20 years, and can't imagine a better job to have. He is interested in all things agile, or anything new to learn.

When my children were little, we took them on a lot of trips. One rule was that they each packed their own backpack; they got to decide what and how much of their own stuff they brought with them. If it fit in their backpack, they could bring it. I found the kids spent more time on this activity than we adults did in packing clothes and necessities. My daughter loved laying out all her things in preparation for the big decision, it was one of her favorite activities. 

Invariably, each of my children overpacked. Their knapsacks were full of whatever treasures, diversions or playthings they figured they couldn’t live without, even for a couple of days. As parents, we didn’t intervene—they were free to make whatever choices they wanted. Yet, halfway to the destination they were already starting to recognize the problems being caused by taking as much as they could. They were operating under the assumption that if there was still room in their bag, then they must fill it with something, even if it was something they wouldn’t have played with at home, let alone on vacation.

Too often, I see strategic planning fall in the same trap. The team looks at the available capacity in the upcoming quarter, half or year, and they create a roadmap that fills all available time between now and then. Many mature organizations even do it this way, using…


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